New court filings reveal key details. TRANSCRIPT: 12/7/2018, The Rachel Maddow Show.
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: December 7, 2018
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Happy Friday. Happy to have you with us.
This at least is not one of those Fridays where it`s a big news day as a
surprise. This is a Friday when we knew we were going to get a bunch of
important information today on the ongoing Russia investigation that has
become the defining crisis of this presidency. We knew this was going to
be a big day, and the news gods did not disappoint.
So, let`s just jump right in. There are two major figures in the
president`s orbit whose legal worries got much worse today for themselves
and whose relationship to the overall scandal involving the president
somewhat changed today. One of them is the president`s campaign chair,
Paul Manafort. And one of them is the president`s long-time personal
lawyer who served for a decade as a senior executive at the president`s
real estate business.
Now heading into today, we had expected that the filing from prosecutors in
the Manafort case might be the one that would advance our understanding of
the scandal and the status of the investigation the most. It would help us
understand any further potential prosecutions, for example, more than
anything else we`ve seen thus far. We do now have the Manafort filing as
promised. The special counsel in that filing lays out for the benefit of
the judge and in the Manafort case what Mueller and his team say are the
lies of Paul Manafort since he`s been supposedly cooperating with
prosecutors after he plead guilty and entered into a plea agreement with
prosecutors back in September.
So, we do have that filing, as expected. It`s interesting. It does raise
some interesting questions. Especially in terms of Manafort`s contacts
with the Trump administration well after the campaign was over, well after
the time when Manafort was supposedly no longer associated with the
president or his administration at all.
But prosecutors filed a separate document with the judge in Manafort`s case
today, which we don`t get to see. In addition to this one that we did get
to see, Mueller`s office today filed a sealed document with the judge, and
that contains all of the information they say that involves ongoing
investigations or any uncharged individuals. Again, that bit is filed
under seal today, and it may just be that the juiciest stuff is in that
sealed filing. We won`t flow until all that stuff in that document
somewhere down the line is unsealed.
So it`s interesting. We were really, really – we had a lot of
anticipation in terms of the Manafort filing today. All in all, though,
honestly, the core filings where we learned the most today was not the
filing relate to Manafort fort. It was the stuff related to Michael Cohen.
And so I want to just – I want to just go through these. I`m not a
lawyer. Statistically speaking, probably neither are you, but these
filings are written pretty much in laymen`s language. I think they`re
written in laymen`s language enough that we can just go through them here.
They came out late tonight. You may not have had a chance to read them
yet. I think we can basically get all the news value out of them basically
from the texts of these documents. So, we`re going to go through each of
these documents in turn and then we`re going bring on some expert advice
from lawyers and reporters who have been involved in the heart of this
story and in the jurisdictions in question here.
Well, let`s start first with that Manafort filing. We`ll talk about the
questions it raises. Then we`re going to talk about the two filings we got
about Michael Cohen today. The two filings from Michael Cohen today, first
one is from the prosecutors in the southern district of New York. That one
is fascinating today because it reads basically like an epic patriotic poem
about Michael Cohen`s crimes.
The federal prosecutors in New York are apparently quite upset with Michael
Cohen. They basically want the book thrown at him. That`s the filing
today, that SDNY filing that has led to all the headlines you might have
seen about how Michael Cohen is now facing potentially substantial prison
time. So, there is the Manafort filing and the SDNY filing on Michael
But then there`s the second filing on Michael Cohen. And for my money,
that`s the document from which we got the most new information and the most
intriguing information. So, that`s the third document we`re going to talk
about tonight. And that`s a relatively short document, a seven-page-long
filing from Mueller`s office about Michael Cohen explaining why his
cooperation has been so valuable to them. That document I think you`ll see
has the most intriguing stuff in it. It`s also the document that probably
offers the most bad news for the president, for the White House, for
anybody who may have been involved in anything Russia related during the
campaign who also had a link to the Trump Organization, the president`s
The Mueller filing in the Cohen case tonight is the one I think poses the
biggest apparent risks, not just for the president, but even potentially
for members of his family, who of course were working at the Trump
Organization, and also we know dealing with some Russia-related matters
during the campaign.
So, that`s the basic map of what we`ve just received tonight from these
core filings. That`s the basic map of where we are going. We`re going to
do the Manafort filing and then we`re going to do SDNY, and then the
special counsel`s office filing. The special counsel`s filing is the one I
think kind of blows up tonight.
All right. Let`s start with Manafort. Manafort filing is ten pages, and
this is basically a notice to the judge from Mueller`s office explaining
why Mueller`s prosecutors determined that Paul Manafort was lying to them,
that he is in breach of his plea agreement because he hasn`t been telling
them the truth. According to Mueller`s prosecutors in this filing today,
they only need to demonstrate to the judge that they have a good faith
belief that Paul Manafort has been lying to them, but Mueller`s prosecutors
offer to the judge that if she would like them to go beyond that, if she
would like them to actually prove all these alleged lies by Manafort, they
are prepared to do so in a hearing at the judge`s discretion at which they
would provide documentary evidence and witness testimony.
Now, what we learned in this Manafort filing tonight factually is that
Manafort and his legal team had three meetings with the special counsel`s
office and the FBI before Manafort ever plead guilty and entered into his
plea agreement in September. So, three meetings before he plead and
started his agreement. Then after he plead and entered into that
agreement, he had nine additional meetings with the special counsel`s
office and the FBI. So, a dozen meetings all together.
Manafort we learned tonight has also testified twice to a grand jury that`s
been convened in this matter, once at the end of October and once in the
beginning of November. But apparently, according to this document tonight,
less than a week after Manafort`s second round before the grand jury, the
prosecutors from the special counsel`s office confronted Manafort and his
defense team with their belief that he had been telling porky pies, that he
had been lying, and they were not happy about it.
Quoting from tonight`s filing, quote: Manafort met with the special
counsel`s office and the FBI on 12 occasions. Three of these meetings
occurred prior to the defendant entering into his plea agreement. Manafort
was represented by defense counsel at every meeting with the government.
Manafort also was called to testify before the grand jury on two occasions,
October 26th and November 2nd, 2018.
On November 8th, 2018, the government informed defense counsel that it
believed Manafort had lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions.
Special counsel`s office offered to provide further details and requested
the defense to make any responsive submissions orally and in writing before
the government made any final determination. The defense then met or spoke
with the government on several occasions where the government enumerated
the basis for its views.
And again, the basis – the views here are that hey, your client`s a liar
and he keeps telling us lies. This is a problem. So, the special
counsel`s office says they meet with Manafort`s defense counsel a whole
bunch of times, basically confronting them and trying to work this out so
Manafort can stop lying, so he can clean up what he`s been lying to them
But according to prosecutors, quote, in none of the communications with
Manafort`s counsel was any factual or legal argument made as to why the
government`s assessment of Manafort`s credibility was erroneous or made
without good faith. OK. So what this is this is Mueller`s office, the
special counsel`s office saying Paul Manafort keeps lying to us. We`ve got
him before the grand jury. We can`t have a lying witness before the grand
We confronted him. We confronted his defense counsel with the fact that
he`s been lying. They were not able to talk us out of that determination
or fix it in any way, so now, judge, we are ready to tell you, we are ready
to prove it in court if you need us to, we are ready to maintain to you
that he has been lying to us about five different things.
And this is the part of this ten-page filing about Manafort where you end
up seeing some of the redactions here. It starts to look like this. But
even with the redactions, you can still get the basics of this sort of
five-part list of things that they say they`re lying about.
Mueller`s office says Manafort lied to them about his interactions with
Konstantin Kilimnik. Remember that name? Kilimnik was sort of Manafort`s
right-hand man in his business in Ukraine, and prosecutors have already
said in other court filings that they believe Konstantin Kilimnik is
associated with Russian intelligence services.
In the filing, prosecutors say Manafort has been lying about the fact and
frequency of what appear to be his interaction with Kilimnik. But again,
there are a whole bunch of redactions there. Then there is an intriguing
subheading in this part of the filing where Mueller`s office also said
Manafort lied about his knowledge of what appears to be somebody else
meeting with Kilimnik. See that line there next to the bullet point?
Redacted, redacted, redacted, meeting with Kilimnik, that name is blacked
I mean, there is open source reporting that has sort of followed the saga
of Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik and how Manafort`s business
entanglements and Russian entanglements followed him into his involvement
in the Trump campaign. Because of that open source reporting, it seems
possible that one of the things that could be behind the redactions here
could be related to Manafort`s knowledge of a meeting that allegedly
happened during the presidential campaign between Manafort`s own right-hand
man Kilimnik and this Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska. Russian
oligarch to whom Manafort reportedly owed money, and to whom Manafort
reportedly offered private briefings about the campaign while he was still
Trump`s campaign chair.
But, again, that is my inference. This section of the filing is all
blacked out. We will take some expert advice later on this hour as to
whether or not it is a reasonable inference I am making here as to whether
something having to do with Oleg Deripaska and meeting with Konstantin
Kilimnik might be one of the things that Paul Manafort is allegedly lying
here to prosecutors.
The prosecutors go on to say that Manafort also lied to them about the
involvement of Kilimnik in a witness tampering scheme to which Manafort has
already pled guilty. They say he lied to them about a $125,000 payment
that Manafort made last year. Manafort according to prosecutors misled
them as to what that payment was for and who it ultimately went to.
And then there is a couple more things they said he lied to them about.
And one of them is almost a little bit funny. One of them is not funny and
is probably bad news for the White House. The funny one is this. It`s
listed as point number four in the filing.
Quote, another DOJ investigation. Quote, during meetings with the
government, prior to pleading guilty and signing his plea agreement,
Manafort provided information about – redacted thing, black box. It was
information, quote, that was pertinent to an investigation in another
However, after signing the plea agreement, Manafort told the government,
including department of justice personnel handling this investigation, he
told them a different and exculpatory version of the events. He then
subsequently changed that version too in order to more closely conform to
his earlier statements after his own defense counsel in the government`s
presence showed Manafort notes that had been taken of his earlier proffer
So, I mean, it`s not like a whoopee cushion or anything, but the reason I
say that is somewhat comical is that what Mueller`s prosecutors are saying
here is that Paul Manafort was so comfortable lying to prosecutors so much
of the time on so many things that ultimately he couldn`t keep his lies
straight. And we don`t know what this other DOJ investigation was
involving another district, but he apparently told prosecutors one story
about this matter under Justice Department investigation. He told them a
story that was bullpucky, and then he came back to them and they asked him
about it again, and he told them a different story about that matter, which
may also have been bullpucky, and then he tried to change it back to
original bullpucky story number one, because he hadn`t been able to keep
straight the first set of lies in what that had been.
So this is the part of Manafort`s filing, which suggests that, yeah,
prosecutors maybe had good reason to feel not at all comfortable with him
providing anything that was supposed to be factual information about
anyone. He is lying about his lying.
But the final point in this Manafort filing today is perhaps more serious
for people other than Paul Manafort. And that`s because Mueller`s team
says that Manafort has been lying to them about his communications with
people in the Trump administration. Quote: The evidence demonstrates that
Manafort lied about his contacts. What the prosecutors are saying here is
that Manafort tried to downplay the fact of his ongoing communications with
people in the Trump administration.
In at least one instance, he tried to secretly communicate with a member of
the administration by authorizing, quote, a person to speak to an
administration official on his behalf. They say he otherwise just didn`t
`fess up to additional contacts he had with Trump administration officials.
He denied those contacts to prosecutors when they asked him about it. He
said that he didn`t have those communications, but he did.
So, again, this was – including a senior administration official as
described by Manafort`s prosecutors. So, again, this document was filed
with the judge in Manafort`s case today, and it`s interesting. It raises
all sorts of interesting questions.
Compared with the other stuff that we got today, I think it doesn`t
actually tell us all that much if we`re grading on a curve. Again, the
most juicy stuff from the Manafort case right now may be not public facing
yet. Manafort`s team said they separately submitted a motion to submit
filing under seal the factual material that relates to pending
investigations or uncharged individuals. So, this is the only the stuff
that is not about pending investigations, or uncharged individuals. That
juicy stuff was filed simply under seal, and we don`t know when that stuff
will be unsealed publicly to the public, if ever.
You know, based on what we can see in terms of this Manafort stuff today,
it does leave was a few new open questions about the Paul Manafort case.
Are we going get to see that other material that was filed under seal? Are
we going to get to see the stuff that`s behind the redactions in this
fighting, right? When you`ve got pages like this, you want to know if
those bars are ever going to be unbarred, if you`re ever going to get to
see what those words are behind those lines.
We now know from the filing today that Manafort met a dozen times with the
special counsel`s office and the FBI and other prosecutors. Should we
expect that any information he gave them will even be considered useful for
other cases, right? Other cases related to this scandal, other defendants
who may be facing prosecution other than himself.
I mean, the prosecutors here in Mueller`s office are describing the
president`s campaign chair Paul Manafort as an almost out-of-control liar.
They`re saying he can`t even keep his own lies straight when he`s trying to
lie. If he`s that much of a liar and that bad of a liar, does that mean
his information is going to be considered useless in any case where he
might otherwise use it?
And what can we discern about the importance of the Konstantin Kilimnik
stuff here? Kilimnik is already charged, but he is believed to be in
Moscow and therefore out of reach of the Justice Department. This Kilimnik
stuff that is in here and the possibility that him meeting with maybe this
Russian oligarch might have been one of the things that Manafort was lying
about, what`s the significance of that?
What`s significance of the fact that according to prosecutors, Manafort has
been concealing contacts with people in the Trump administration, including
according to the filing, quote, a senior administration official with whom
Manafort was in contact with up through February of 2018. So there are a
bunch of interesting questions raised by the Manafort filing. I mean,
obviously he appears to be quite cooked when it comes to his own
We don`t know if the judge is going to order that there should be a hearing
in his case so the prosecutors can actually prove all of this stuff in
court rather than just asserting it in this filing. Prosecutors do appear
to feel very confident that they could prove any and all of this stuff that
the judge might want to hear about. So we`ll get expert advice on this
coming up. That`s the Manafort filing.
Now let`s talk what we got today in the Michael Cohen case. And the
Michael Cohen case today we got two very different documents, both of which
I find fascinating. If I could have stopped time today and just spent all
day reading and rereading and looking up information and talking to experts
in conjunction with each line of these filings, I would have stopped time
and done that.
But as I mentioned, these two documents we got on Cohen today, they come
from two very different places and they have two sets of very different
implications. So, let`s talk first what we got from federal prosecutors in
the southern district of New York. Remember the context here. Michael
Cohen initially plead guilty in August.
You remember the drama of that day, right? Michael Cohen in Manhattan,
turns up in federal court in New York. He pleads guilty to eight felonies,
six of which relate to tax evasion in his own finances and business stuff,
but two of them, two of the eight felonies to which he plead that day were
campaign finance felonies. And he stood up in court and what they call his
allocution in court I have been directed to commit those felonies by then
candidate Donald Trump.
So, that was a dramatic day back in August. Michael Cohen pleads guilty.
He implicates the president that day in court, and then he soon indicated
through his lawyers that he was more than happy to start cooperating with
prosecutors in whatever they wanted to talk to him about. But, you know,
when he stood up that day in court handy plead guilty and he implicated the
president, he did not actually sign a cooperation agreement in conjunction
with that guilty plea.
So that happened back in August. That was him dealing with federal
prosecutors from the southern district of New York, August. Then separate
matter, last week, Michael Cohen, surprise, turns up in federal court again
in New York. But this time he pleads guilty to just one single felony.
He pleads guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project,
which he and the president`s business and the president were pursuing
during Trump`s presidential campaign, even though they were lying about it
publicly and denying they had any such pending deals.
Now when Cohen stood up in court last week about that to plead guilty to a
felony related to Trump Tower Moscow and lying to Congress about it, that
was something he did – that was not something he did with the same
prosecutors from August, okay. When Cohen stood up last week in federal
court in New York, the prosecutors handling him in that case were actually
Robert Mueller`s prosecutors. It was the special counsel`s office.
And whether or not that distinction seemed super important to you at the
time, that he was dealing with one group of federal prosecutors here and
then Mueller`s office the second time he plead guilty, whether or not we
groked that that was actually an can`t distinction, tonight we know why
that is super important, because that`s why we got these two different sets
of documents, because those two different sets of prosecutors it turns out
want two very different sets of things from Michael Cohen. And apparently
what we`ve learned tonight is that he has been really helpful to Mueller`s
prosecutors, but he hasn`t been so much help to feel the other guys.
So Michael Cohen is due to be sentenced by the judge who is hearing his
case, all the felonies to which he has plead guilty have been combined
under the heading of United States of America versus Michael Cohen. It`s
the same judge whose handling the sentencing for all of the felonies he has
plead to combined. He is due to be sentenced next week. At midnight on
Friday night last week, you may recall that Michael Cohen`s legal team
filed their memorandum to that judge about his sentencing, talking what a
great guy Michael Cohen is and how much he likes to help people and playing
up what a great cooperator he`s been and what a brave, kind, patriotic soul
The basic point of that memo, which they filed midnight on Friday was
telling the judge that when he sentences Michael Cohen, he should give
Michael Cohen zero time in jail. Well, what the prosecutors in the
Southern District of New York filed today with the judge was a blistering
response to that. And that is a long one. This is a 40-page-long filing.
And honestly, they needed every single one of these 40 pages to fully
express to the judge how mad they are at Michael Cohen. And mad at him is
not a legal term of art, but I`m not a lawyer. I`m just telling you how I
read it. And if you read it too, you will understand why I feel that way.
All right. Quoting from this filing, quote: Defendant Michael Cohen is
scheduled to be sentenced on December 12th, 2018. It`s next Wednesday.
The United States attorney`s office for the Southern District of New York
respectfully submits this memorandum in connection with that sentencing and
in response to the defendant`s sentencing memorandum, which was dated
November 30th, 2018.
Cohen, an attorney and businessman, committed four distinct federal crimes
over a period of federal years – excuse me, period of several years. He
was motivated to do so by personal greed and repeatedly used his power and
influence for deceptive ends. Now he seeks extraordinary leniency, a
sentence of no jail time based principally on his rose colored view of the
seriousness of the crimes, his claims to a sympathetic personal history and
his provision of certain information to law enforcement.
But the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission
allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his
professional life and was evidently hidden from the friends and family
members who wrote on his behalf in that midnight Friday filing where his
lawyers asked him to do no time in jail.
Quote, Cohen did provide information to law enforcement, including
information that assisted the special counsel`s office in ongoing matters.
We agree that this is a factor to be considered by the court. But Cohen`s
description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete
in others. To be clear, Michael Cohen does not have a cooperation
agreement, and therefore is not properly described as a cooperating witness
as that term is commonly used in this district, meaning the Southern
District of New York.
Quote, while the office agrees that Cohen should receive credit for his
assistance in the special counsel`s investigation, that credit should not
approximate the credit a traditional cooperating witness would receive
given, among other reasons, Cohen`s affirmative decision not to become a
cooperator. For these reasons, the office respectfully requests that this
court impose a substantial term of imprisonment, one that reflects only a
modest downward variance from the applicable guidelines range.
And the applicable guidelines range in Michael Cohen`s case is like four or
five years, 61 months to 63 months.
So, separately from this wrangling about the defense in the opposition to
Michael Cohen, we also find out today in this filing that the probation
department submitted a recommendation to the judge as to what sort of jail
time they believe Michael Cohen should get. We learn in this filing
tonight that the probation`s recommendation is 42 months. So 3 1/2 years.
So factor that in when you`re trying to anticipate what the judge might
But bottom line, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are
saying, yeah, he should get a teensy, teensy little bit of credit for his
cooperation, but not much, and he should otherwise be liable for what the
guidelines say he should do, which is years in prison. Clearly, though,
the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York also know that this is
a public-facing document, and they also make this public-facing case just
for Michael Cohen being a bad guy and for being deserving of years in
prison, despite whatever else you might have heard about his role in this
Check this out. Quote, as described in the criminal information, Cohen
committed four separate and serious crimes over the course of several
years. These crimes, willful tax evasion, making false statements to a
financial institution, illegal campaign contributions and making false
statements to Congress were distinct in their harms, but bear a common set
of characteristics. They each involve deception and were each motivated by
personal greed and ambition. While Cohen, as his own submission makes
clear, already enjoyed a privileged life, his desire for even greater
wealth and influence precipitated an extensive course of criminal conduct.
And in this filing prosecutors then go through in a lot of detail how Cohen
first came into Donald Trump`s orbit, also how his tax evasion schemes
worked, also how he defrauded banks and ran scams out of his taxi medallion
business. But then we get this statement in the blunt language of these
prosecutors explaining what Cohen made reference to that dramatic day back
in court in August when it came to those campaign finance felonies, right,
when it came to his allegation that he had been directed to commit those
felonies by Donald Trump.
You remember what this is about, right? The campaign finance felonies
relate to hush money payments that Trump and Cohen arranged to keep these
two women from talking about their alleged affairs with Donald Trump during
the campaign. And so, in this filing, and this is a really damning thing
for the president and for the White House, that they are not going to be
able to explain away.
In this filing, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York
spell out in their own words in terms that leave no doubt about their view
of the president`s involvement in this criminal scheme and the evidence
they`ve got to prove it. Quote, on approximately June 16th, 2015,
individual 1, for whom Cohen worked for at the time began an ultimately
successful campaign for president of the United States. So that means we
can just called individual 1 Donald Trump from here on out, right?
Quote, Cohen had no formal title with the campaign, but he had a campaign
e-mail address, and at various times advised the campaign, including on
matters of interest to the press. Cohen also made media appearances as a
surrogate and supporter of Mr. Trump. During the campaign, Cohen played a
central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories, each
from women who claimed to have had an affair with Trump so as to suppress
the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election.
With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with intent to influence the
2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his action was one or more
members of the campaign, oh, including through meetings and phone calls
about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as
Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in
coordination with and at the direction of Donald J. Trump. As a result of
Cohen`s actions, neither woman spoke to the press prior to the election.
We then get like three solid pages of totally granular detail as to how
these crimes were committed, including how they were funneled through
Trump`s real estate business, the Trump organization, through false entries
in the company`s books that disguised the nature and the purpose of these
The president came out on Twitter today and said these filings totally
clear the president. That`s backwards, it turns out. Even just this one
part of this one filing directly contradicts that assertion and actually
lays out evidence of the president`s direct criminal liability according to
federal prosecutors. Whether the Justice Department ever chooses to indict
him for these alleged crimes, prosecutors in this filing are saying that he
When it comes to conveying to the judge why, quote, a substantial term of
imprisonment is warranted for Michael Cohen on these crimes, when it comes
to spelling out the nature and seriousness of the offenses that Cohen has
plead to, prosecutors also tell this remarkable, again public-facing story
about just how bad this behavior is, just how bad these crimes are and how
much they hurt the country. And again, what they`re saying here is this is
why Michael Cohen should go to jail for this. But they have also said at
this point that the president of the United States committed these crimes
And this is how they describe those crimes. Quote, his offenses strike at
several pillars of our society and system of government, the payment of
taxes, transparent and fair elections, and truthfulness before government
and in business. Cohen`s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the
eve of the 2016 election for president of the United States struck a blow
to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws,
While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election
knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal
ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election
from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments
to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged
extramarital affairs with Donald Trump. In the process, Cohen deceived the
voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a
substantial effect on the election. The sentence impose should reflect the
seriousness of Cohen`s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt
to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen
act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.
Cohen`s submission suggests that this was but a brief error in judgment.
Not so. Cohen knew where the line is and chose to deliberately and
repeatedly cross it. Cohen`s criminal violation of the federal election
laws were also stirred like his other crimes by his own ambition and greed.
During and after the campaign, Cohen privately told friends and colleagues,
including in seized text messages that he expected to be given a prominent
role and title in the new administration. When that did not materialize,
Cohen found a way to monetize his relationship with and access to the
president. Cohen successfully convinced numerous major corporations to
retain him as a consultant who could provide unique insights about and
access to the new administration. Some of these corporations were then
stuck making large up-front or periodic payments to Cohen, even though he
provided little or no real service under these contracts.
Bank records reflect that Cohen made more than $4 million before the
contracts were terminated. Taken alone, these are each serious crimes
worthy of meaningful punishment. Taken together, these offenses reveal a
man who knowingly sought to undermine core institution of our democracy.
His motivation to do so was not born from naivete, carelessness, misplaced
loyalty or political ideology. Rather these were knowing and calculated
acts, acts Cohen executed in order to profit personally to build his own
power and to enhance his level of influence. The nature and seriousness of
each of Cohen`s crimes warrant a substantial sentence in this case.
And they go on. And again, the campaign finance felonies that prosecutors
are describing there, they say are campaign finance felonies that Cohen
committed at the direction of the president.
So, they go on for dozens of pages talking about Cohen as a bad guy. At
one point, they go out of their way to describe the kinds of threats that
Cohen has made to journalists and to other people who he has crossed in
business and politics, describing his conduct at one point as repugnant.
So, the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, they did persuade
Michael Cohen to plead guilty to eight felonies, and then the special
counsel`s office ultimately persuaded him to plead the one more, a ninth
felony, which got folded into this case as well.
But they`re now asking the judge to throw the book at Michael Cohen, and to
give him substantial time, a substantial sentence in prison on the basis of
the seriousness of his crimes, but also on the basis of the fact that he
didn`t much cooperate with them. I mean, however much he helped Mueller
and his team, and more on that in a second, federal prosecutors in New York
say he didn`t help them, not that the way they wanted and expected him to.
Quote, Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the
scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or
had knowledge. Quote: In order to successfully cooperate with this office,
meaning the office of the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New
York, witnesses must undergo full debriefs that encompass their entire
At the time, Cohen met twice with this office through his attorneys, he
expressed that he was considering but not committing to full Cooperation.
Cohen subsequently determined not to fully cooperate. And that decision by
Cohen that he was not going to fully cooperate with prosecutors in the
southern district of New York, that he was not going to talk about other
criminal conduct he knew about or had participated in, that is why these
prosecutors want to throw the book at him, even as they acknowledge he has
been super helpful to the special counsel.
That brings us to what we got from the special counsel today, which is a
whole bunch of new news, and that is next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In Robert Mueller`s offices filing today in the case of Michael
Cohen, we`ve got a brief document. It`s only seven pages in total. The
bottom line, the purpose of this document in terms of the Cohen case is for
Mueller and his prosecutors to advocate to the judge in Cohen`s case that
Cohen not do any additional prison time for the one felony that they
persuaded him to plead guilty to, but in the course of making that case we
learn a lot from Mueller and from how Cohen`s – about how Cohen`s case
fits into the overall scandal.
So, remember here what happened is that Cohen initially plead guilty to
eight felonies in federal district court in New York. That was a deal he
worked out with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. We know
from today`s other filing in the Cohen case that they ended up subsequently
not that happy with the cooperation they got from him as a witness, and
they think that the judge should put him in jail for a long time.
Thereafter, Cohen plead guilty to another felony based on his work with
prosecutors from the special counsel`s office. They got him to plead
guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow Project. And so
essentially what they`re saying here is yes we got him to plead guilty to
an additional felony, but we don`t think that that should give him any
additional jail time. So this is from the filing.
Quote, special counsel`s office provides this memorandum in connection with
the sentencing of Michael Cohen scheduled for September 12th, 2018. On
November 29th, Cohen plead guilty of one count of making false statements
to Congress. The government does not take a position with a particular
sentence to be imposed but submits that it is appropriate for any amount of
incarceration to be served concurrently to any sentence imposed by the
court in United States versus Cohen.
So, again, what that means is if Cohen is going to get any prison time for
the other felonies that he plead to with prosecutors from the Southern
District of New York, that`s fine, but don`t make this additional time, not
They go on, quote, the defendant`s time was serious. He withheld
information material to the investigations of Russian interference in the
2016 U.S. presidential election, investigations being conducted by the
Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, and the
special counsel`s office. The defendant lied to Congress about a business
project, the Moscow Project that he worked on during the 2016 campaign
while he served as executive vice president at the Trump Organization and
as special counsel to Donald Trump.
The defendant admitted he told these lies, which he made publicly and in
submissions to Congress in order to, one, minimize links between Moscow
Project and Donald Trump, and two, give the false impression that the
Moscow Project had ended before the Iowa caucus and the first residential
primaries in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations being
conducted by Congress and the special counsel`s office.
OK. At this point in the filing, we`re pretty much up to where Michael
Cohen was when he plead guilty in court in New York last week and said,
yes, I lied to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow. But did you notice that
one additional detail we got there? He told these lies in submissions to
Congress and publicly.
That ends up being an important new development here. Quote: The
defendant`s lies to Congress were deliberate and premeditated. His false
statements did not spring spontaneously from a line of examination or
heated colloquy during a congressional hearing. They started in a written
submission that he chose to provide to both how was Congress ahead of his
appearances. These circumstances show a deliberate effort to use his lies
as a way to set the tone and shape the course of the hearing in an effort
to stymie the inquiries.
OK. So the special counsel`s office here is saying that covering up the
Moscow Project, covering up the whole Trump Tower Moscow thing wasn`t just
something that he panic and did on the spur of the moment. It was a
deliberate, considered planned process, which of course raises the question
of whether or not it involved other people.
It turns out, yes, in a way, they`re saying it did involve other people.
Quote: The defendant amplified his false statements by releasing and
repeating his lying to the public, including to other potential witnesses.
Ding, ding, ding.
The defendant was scheduled to appear before both intelligence committees
in closed sessions prior to testifying, the defendant made a public
appearance at the U.S. Capitol and released his prepared opening statement
which falsely claimed that the Moscow Project was terminated in January
2016. By publicly presenting this false narrative, the defendant
deliberately shifted the timeline of what had occurred in the hopes of
limiting the investigation into possible Russian interference in the
All right. So this is important. Michael Cohen we learn today did not
just lie to Congress, but according to the special counsel`s office, which,
again, sort of looking kindly upon him, it`s important that he lied to the
public, because in so doing, when he made that public statement, he didn`t
just give it behind closed doors to Congress, when he made that public
restatement of his lie in Congress testimony, that was effectively a
message to the other witnesses who might know about the Trump Tower Moscow
project telling them that, hey, basically, this is how you should lie about
this matter too, because this is how I`m lying about it to Congress. Let`s
all get our stories straight.
And, remember, Congressman Jim Himes of the House Intelligence Committee
suggested to us just a few days ago after Michael Cohen`s testimony on
Trump Tower Moscow was revealed to be a lie, remember, he came on this show
just the other night and said, you know, I`m not going to talk what
everybody said in detail behind closed doors in that closed testimony, but
we got a lot of testimony from different witnesses about Trump Tower
Moscow. And if Michael Cohen is now saying his testimony was a lie, well,
I can tell you, when we had other people testifying about it, we didn`t
notice strong inconsistencies between their testimony and what Cohen said.
What this suggests is that Cohen went public with his false testimony as a
way to convey to the other witnesses who knew about Trump Tower Moscow how
they should lie about it as well. Which makes it a cover-up that involves
not just one person, but multiple people.
And oh, wait, there is more. The defendant`s false statements obscured the
fact that the Moscow project was a lucrative business opportunity that
sought and likely required the assistance of the Russian government. If
this project was completed, the company could have received hundreds of
millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other
revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss
it with Donald Trump well into the campaign was material to the ongoing
congressional and special counsel`s investigations, particularly because it
occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to
interfere with the U.S. presidential election.
All right. This is important too. What we`re learn hearing from the
special counsel`s office is that Trump Tower Moscow wasn`t some tiddlywinks
deal. Trump Tower Moscow was going to result, if it succeeded, in hundreds
of millions of dollars being paid from Russian sources to the Trump
Michael Cohen downplayed the financial importance of the project, but the
special counsel`s office is saying here that they have evidence, and they
go into it in more detail, they have evidence how remunerative this deal
was going to be, hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources to
the Trump Organization. And that is what Trump was lying about during the
campaign, saying he had no deals and no pending deals in Russia. It was a
lucrative business opportunity that sought and likely required the
assistance of the Russian government.
So, at this point in the filing, the special counsel`s office goes on to
say actually, the first time that Michael Cohen came to them for his first
meeting, which he requested in August 2018, he initially lied to the
special counsel`s office too. He kept telling those same lies about Trump
Tower Moscow. It was only after he pled guilty that he came back and met
with the special counsel`s office again and finally came clean and told
them how big a deal it was, and in fact that it had not been over before
the voting started. It had continued throughout the campaign during the
entire time that Trump was trying to line up the nomination.
So Cohen, quote, admitted that he had lied to Congress and to the special
counsel`s office about the Moscow Project. He provided detailed
information about the true circumstances of the Moscow project, including
its duration, the persons involved in the discussions, contact with Russian
government officials and discussions during the first half of 2016 about
the possibility of travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project.
In addition to correcting the timeline and detailing the contacts he had
during pursuit of the Moscow project, Cohen explained financial aspects of
the deal that would have made it highly lucrative for the company and
The information provided by Cohen about the Moscow project in these proffer
sessions is consistent with and corroborated by other information obtained
in the course of the special counsel`s investigation.
So they`ve got it. They`ve got Trump Tower Moscow. And specifically,
they`ve got the fact that it would have resulted in Russian sources paying
hundreds of millions of dollars to Trump`s campaign, and they needed to
Russian government in order to make the deal go ahead. That is what the
president was not telling the truth about to the American people during the
campaign, and Russia knew it at the time.
The special counsel`s office isn`t just saying that Cohen has pled to this.
They`re saying they checked what he told them about this and it is
corroborated by other information that they were able to obtain about this
deal. That is a really big problem for the president.
The defendant`s assistance has been useful in four significant respects.
First, the defendant provided information about his own contacts with
Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the
course of making those contacts.
For example, as described, the defendant provided a detailed account of his
involvement and the involvement of others in the Moscow project. The
defendant also provided information about attempts by other Russian
nationals to reach the campaign. The special counsel`s office at this
point in the filing describes a previously unknown overture from another
Russian about Trump Tower Moscow, an overture that Cohen did not
necessarily himself follow up on.
But now, the way the filing ends is sort of the big money, no whammies
here. They`re saying he helped them in four different ways, right. He
provided them information about his own contacts with Russian interests.
Second, Cohen provided the special counsel with useful information
concerning certain discrete Russia related matters core to his
investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Trump
organization executives during the campaign. So we don`t know what this
is, but Cohen gave the special counsel useful information about certain
discrete Russia-related matters core to Mueller`s investigation. He
obtained this information because of his contact with people who worked at
the Trump organization.
So presumably, that means the president. That could also mean anybody else
who was involved both in the campaign and the Trump Organization who had
anything to do with Russia. We do know that the president`s eldest son Don
Jr. did go to the Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyers promising dirt
on Hillary Clinton.
The special counsel also says that Cohen provided relevant and useful
information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White
House during 2017 and 2018. So, apparently, Cohen`s helpfulness has not
just been confined to the campaign. It`s this year too, and it`s since
Trump has been president.
And finally, Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating
his response to congressional inquiries. Again, it appears that what the
special counsel`s office is saying about his response to congressional
inquiries is that he lied and he lied in a way that was designed to be part
of an organized cover-up that involved everybody else who knew about the
president`s secret financial dealings with Russia that he was lying about
during the campaign, which might have resulted in hundreds of millions of
dollars in Russian-sourced funds coming to him and his company had the
Russian government did what he wanted.
We`re going get some expert advice on sorting this out when we come back.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Did you read? Did you hear what prosecutors in the Southern
District said about Michael Cohen today? Did you?
Joining us now is Daniel Goldman, former assistant U.S. attorney in the
Southern District of New York.
Mr. Goldman, thank you for being here.
DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: The prosecutors in the southern district are saying this may look
like cooperation some places, but this is not cooperation here. We don`t
consider him to be a cooperating witness. He has not been willing to talk
to about criminal behavior he may have been involved in or know about, and
therefore throw the book at him.
Is this a Southern District thing or is this something specific to Cohen?
GOLDMAN: The Southern District requires cooperating witnesses to not only
admit to the crimes that they`re charged with or that the government has
evidence of, but any other crimes that they may have committed.
MADDOW: Back to the time they were 2 years old.
GOLDMAN: Literally, if you stole a candy bar from the drugstore when you
were 16 you have to tell the government that. You won`t necessarily plead
guilty to that because it`s not a federal crime, but you may have to plead
guilty to additional federal crimes that you volunteer to the government.
It`s the way that this cooperation process works in the Southern District,
and it is a little different tan the way that bob Mueller and the special
counsel`s office seems to be operating where they`re willing to take
people`s cooperation and they`re willing to either dismiss counts like they
did with Rick Gates, allow someone to plead guilty to what seems to be
lesser crimes like they did with Michael Flynn or in the case of Michael
Cohen and we don`t know yet what`s going on. But they`re happy to hear him
out and take his testimony and witness statements and allow him to continue
to help. And the Southern District basically said you`re truthful, we
MADDOW: Yes, they didn`t say they thought he was lying to them.
GOLDMAN: And they said if you`re not willing to go further and give up
everything, then there`s no cooperation here. And that`s the way it works.
And unfortunately for Michael Cohen, they`re in the Southern District.
This case is in the Southern District. And Judge Pauley knows how it
There`s a bit of faith to say I am going to admit to my crimes and it`s
going to ultimately reward me. And some people have a difficult time doing
MADDOW: So you think Michael Cohen has taken a very big risk by not
entering into a cooperation agreement to the satisfaction of the Southern
District. Could he change his mind on that and after seeing this and
saying you guys are telling the judge to throw the book at me. I thought I
would get more credit for the cooperation I gave to the special counsel`s
office. I did meet with you guys a couple of times, I thought that would
be enough. Fine, if you want me to sign a cooperation agreement and tell
you about the candy bars I stole, I`ll go do it.
Could he still do that?
GOLDMAN: Right now, on Wednesday, Michael Cohen is going to get a jail
sentence. It didn`t have to go that way –
GOLDMAN: – but that`s what`s going to happen. If he does get a jail
sentence, he still can cooperate and there`s a mechanism which he can
reduce his sentence after at a later date. And he can come in and give it
all up if he wants to do that.
But if he`s not going to do that, he`s going to get a jail sentence. And
the reason is because what the Southern District memo says, which is this
is how it works here. And, Judge, if you`re going to let someone play fast
and loose with how cooperation works here and give him probation on a
guideline range, then what`s the point of having cooperation here, and
that`s why the judge is not going to do it.
MADDOW: Daniel Goldman, former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern
District of New York, Dan, thank you. Much appreciated.
GOLDMAN: Thanks so much.
MADDOW: All right. More to get to. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us now is Emily Jane Fox. She`s a senior reporter at
“Vanity Fair”. And we call Emily every time something happens that relates
to Michael Cohen.
Emily, thank you for being with us.
EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: What`s Mr. Cohen`s reaction to these court filings today?
FOX: You know, I think there was a sense when he pleaded guilty to the
count with the special counsel`s office two weeks ago that things were
going in a little bit of a different direction and the people who were
close to Cohen and around him at the time, I think that the memo filed
today was a real pin in that balloon. And I don`t think that everyone in
that orbit saw this coming.
This is not the memo that they expected today, and it is certainly a very,
very blistering filing that was made in court and something that I don`t
think anybody who read that would feel good going into sentencing on
MADDOW: So he was surprised that the Southern District prosecutors say he
needs a substantial jail term?
FOX: I think that people – I don`t think there was a surprise that there
was a suggestion that there was substantial jail time on the line. But I
think that the sense around him was we cooperated, we spent 70 hours with
investigators as it was laid out by Robert Mueller in his filing today. He
provided significant information that is useful to the investigation, and I
think that is where they felt the momentum growing, that that is something
he had chosen to do.
And so, I think the Southern District`s response today didn`t take that
into much account. And it was blistering, and it laid out a fairly
reasonable argument for why he should be sentenced the way they believe he
should be sentenced.
MADDOW: Would – is there any chance he would reconsider his decision not
to form a formal cooperation agreement with SDNY? They`re saying we`re
treating him as a cooperator because he`s not cooperating to the standards
of this district. Is Mr. Cohen potentially in a position to reconsider
that decision now?
FOX: I don`t know. I think there was a lot of thought that went into the
decision to not be an official cooperating witness. You and I talked about
this two weeks ago on the night of sentencing when I said I really don`t
think he`s an official cooperating witness. That was my understanding from
all the reporting.
MADDOW: You were right.
FOX: Well, even a broken clock was right twice today, right?
But I think that this was a decision he did not go into lightly. This does
not mean this was a decision he could potentially not reconsider it as
Daniel explained in your last break, but sentencing happens in a few days.
This is not a lot of time.
Now, I will say that in Cohen world, things move really quickly. As we
know when he was first presented with the possibility of being indicted in
August, things moved really quickly, he made a decision to plead guilty and
I think the filings lasted about three days. The Mueller plea came in less
than two weeks.
So things can move really quickly, but I don`t have any indication from my
reporting there could any kind of change. That`s not to say there won`t
MADDOW: Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter with “Vanity Fair” – thank you
for being here, Emily. Much appreciated.
FOX: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. That does it for us tonight. See you again I don`t
know in five minutes.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.
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